'No Prison For Children': A Call to the Prime Minister

By Sohini Sen , afaqs!, Mumbai | In Advertising | December 08, 2014
The campaign, by a united group of NGOs, seeks to raise awareness about the Juvenile Justice Bill 2014, and asks people to tweet using #noprisonforchildren to the Prime Minister.

A crime committed against a child is a serious offence. However, what happens when the reverse is true, if the child commits a crime? A group of NGOs and human rights groups have come forward to make sure that a child can remain a child, even in the worst case scenario. Their medium of asking the audience to listen is through a touching digital campaign called '#Noprisonforchildren'.

Recent events in the country have led to much debate about what kind of punishment is required for a child who commits a heinous crime.

When the 'Nirbhaya' incident of 2012 took place, the fact that one of the perpetrators of the crime was a juvenile shocked the country. Does he deserve to be let go, keeping in mind his tender age, or should he be punished just as severely as the others, that was the question being asked.

Under pressure from the public, the government re-enacted the Juvenile Justice Act to exclude children who commit heinous crimes. The Juvenile Justice (care and protection of children) Bill 2014 {JJ Bill 2014}, now rests before the Parliament and will come up for discussion during the upcoming winter session.

However, a section of the society, led by various non government organisations and human rights group has raised their voice against the proposed Bill. ProChild Network, a coalition of 58 such NGOs, has launched a film urging people to rethink their decision. The video, released on November 24, has been released just in time for the Parliament's Winter session.

"Public policies cannot be battled without proper knowledge, nor without consulting experts in the matter and certainly not in a hurry. With this campaign we aim to make people aware of the situation and ask them to the sign the petition to ask the government to stall the bill. More than that, however, we needed to put out the data and information to the public so that they can take an informed decision," explains Nicole Menezes, co-founder, Leher (a child rights organisation working to make child protection a shared responsibility).

The film opens with a child in a prison emulating what his elders are doing - in this case smoking a cigarette. The film continues to show how the child has picked up other ill habits like alcohol consumption, torturing other children and physical violence from his environment. The eerily silent film (only a background music can be heard) then flashes the words 'What they see is what they learn'. The film ends with a call to action, asking people to oppose the Juvenile Justice Bill 2014 by tweeting #noprisonforchildren to the Prime Minister.

According to Menezes, in 2013, children comprised only 1.1 per cent of all persons arrested. A mere 0.01 per cent of all arrests were children arrested for rape and murder. These belonged to the vulnerable age group of 14 to 17 years. Menezes shares a study which says that children belonging to this age group are not as mature and are therefore more prone to making mistakes.

The campaign was conceptualised by Brandmovers, a global interactive design and advertising agency, and Homegrown, a youth media company in urban culture and lifestyle. The video was produced by Brandmovers and Directed by Achowe Narruttam of Brandmovers in collboration with Homegrown. The digital agencies were chosen specifically keeping in mind the target audience, the youth, who will build knowledge and change their perception on the exclusion of certain children from the JJ Bill, 2014.

The objective of the campaign is to drive the message home that prisons are not the place where children should be. Neither is it the answer for ensuring women's safety. Reform homes, where the convicted children can be rehabilitated are better suited for turning them over a new leaf.

Varsha Patra

"Such models globally have proven unsuccessful and highlight the fact that while children between the age of 14-17 are impressionable and vulnerable to commit crimes, they are also susceptible to reform. Putting them away in adult prison will only work adversely and expose them to the trauma of these prisons, and they will be released as hardened criminals. We are not saying that they must be condoned for their actions, but the great need is of reformation, and focus on improvement on remand homes," points out Varsha Patra, partner - Business and Strategy Head, HG Media (Homegrown).

The film however never mentions the NGOs or the ProChild Network. The anonymity has been intentional, to keep the focus truly on the issue at hand and not on the people or groups behind it. Additonally, a microsite for the campaign will include data, case studies, FAQ's and details on the JJ bill 2014 in order to build public knowledge and clarify misconceptions on the issue of Juvenile Justice in India.

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